An East Coast Road Trip: Discover the Most Beautiful Spots Along the Atlantic Seaboard

Philadelphia has some fascinating historical sights – and feats of engineering such as the Benjamin Franklin Bridge
Philadelphia has some fascinating historical sights – and feats of engineering such as the Benjamin Franklin Bridge | © Sean Pavone / Alamy
Photo of Gethin Morgan
Campaign Production Associate22 June 2021

The vast landscapes and open roads of the USA make for perfect road-tripping. While most people steer towards Route 66 or twist along the sunny West Coast, you should consider setting off on this spectacular East Coast adventure.

What is the best road trip in the USA?

There are plenty to choose from, but we think the Atlantic Coast might just take the crown. Not only does it feature a huge proportion of the country’s major cities and an incredible variation of natural wonders, it’s also the most historically rich part of the US. For this itinerary we’ve decided to start off in one of the richest, New York City, and journey all the way down to the most southern part of the country. This can take up to three weeks to do properly, although you can easily pick your own starting point and head north or south for as long as you see fit. You could even commit to an even bigger trip by starting closer to the northeastern tip of America, in charming Maine.

So make sure you’ve got a full tank of gas – and bring plenty of cash, to keep filling it up again along the way – and set off on this beautiful journey alongside the eastern seaboard.

New York City

Our starting point needs no introduction and, quite frankly, you could spend the whole three weeks exploring NYC’s many attractions. We recommend spending a few nights in the Big Apple – see some sights, sample some incredible food and book one of the many cultural tours dotted around the city. We have a huge selection of NYC hotels to choose from. Perhaps you want one night of luxury before going budget-friendly on the road? Or, if you’re looking to save from the off, there are plenty of surprisingly reasonable places to stay across the city.

New York City, where you will start your trip, needs no introduction | © Batchelder / Alamy

Philadelphia

With traffic on your side you can reach Philly in under two hours via Interstate 95. Alternatively, if you want to take a more scenic route you could head to the Jersey Shore for a day at the beach, or even head all the way down to Atlantic City and hit the slots. It’s only an hour from Philadelphia, so start early and you can do it all in a day. Once you’ve settled into a cozy hotel you should definitely spend a day or two exploring the city. There is an excellent range of museums, parks and markets here, plus some fascinating historical sites – from Edgar Allen Poe’s home to a prison that once held Al Capone and, of course, the iconic Rocky Steps. Don’t forget to try a Philly cheesesteak and a hoagie sandwich – two of the city’s finest culinary exports – while you’re here. There are plenty of excellent food tours that’ll take you to the best spots in town.

There are some fascinating historical sites in Philadelphia, such as Independence Hall | © Gang Liu / Alamy

Washington DC

Next up is the capital. Washington DC is one of the most historic cities in the US – home of the White House and the Smithsonian, not to mention the memorials to Lincoln, Jefferson and Martin Luther King Jr, plus many other buildings and monuments of political significance. Luckily, most of these are in the same area, so you can book a handy tour to see them all before turning your attention to DC’s other side. This is a lovely, leafy city with a strong artistic culture and an underrated food scene. So be sure to head to the theater, go on a street-art tour and check out some local restaurants before you leave. It takes about two and a half hours to get here from Philly, passing through Baltimore on the way, and with so much to do here, we recommend finding a hotel for at least a night or two.

There are numerous monuments to see in DC, including the World War II Memorial | © Llewellyn / Alamy

North and South Carolina

The middle section of this epic journey sees us leave behind the major cities of the northeast and explore the vast natural beauty of North and South Carolina. While North Carolina boasts 300mi (483km) of gorgeous barrier-island beaches, dotted with quaint coastal towns, we suggest taking an inland detour, turning off onto Interstate 85 at Petersburg, Virginia. This takes you towards the incredible parks and mountain ranges on the western side of the state, which include the Cherokee National Forest, the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Smoky Mountains. Don’t forget to pack your hiking boots, because you’re about to embark on some of the most scenic hikes in all of the US. It is a huge trip from DC, so we suggest booking somewhere to stay in Charlotte, which puts you within day-tripping distance of that extraordinary natural beauty, and right next to the South Carolina border.

Myrtle Beach is just one of the many places to discover in South Carolina | © John Wollwerth / Alamy

Once you’ve crossed state lines, we recommend heading straight back east, towards Myrtle Beach, where you’ll find 60mi (96km) of spectacular coastline. Not only are the beaches amazing – and the sunrises magical – there are also countless excellent restaurants along the oceanside strip. This is where Southern cuisine gets a fishy twist – freshly caught delights take center stage on most daily special boards, but it’s shrimp that reigns supreme. Head south to the charming port city of Charleston, where you’ll find cobbled streets, picturesque architecture and a number of excellent seafood festivals. We recommend setting up camp for a few days in either, if not both, of these spots, whether it’s the resorts of Myrtle Beach or the quaint boutiques of Charleston.

Orlando

When you leave Charleston you can quickly get back onto Interstate 95, which takes you along the coast of Georgia and, after around three and a half hours, across into Florida and into the city of Jacksonville. While Orlando is only an extra two hours south, we recommend spending a night here, if only to sample the thriving cosmopolitan nightlife and unique craft-beer scene. Spend the morning exploring the city’s huge expanse of urban parks before heading back on the road to the many resorts, theme parks and water parks of Orlando.

A night in Orlando will be time well spent | © Allen Creative / Steve Allen / Alamy

Miami

How long you stay in Orlando will depend on your own travel tastes, as well as those of your travel companions, and the same could be said for Miami. At this point, you could either make the three and a half hour drive to the Magic City, or head to the western coast of Florida, where you’ll find the more relaxed Tampa Bay Area. The beautiful city of Clearwater can offer a lovely few days of relaxation before you head to the glitzy excitement of Miami. If you’ve been staying in budget accommodation along your whole journey, this may be your chance to splash out on slightly more luxurious quarters as you sample the buzzing nightlife, majestic beaches, iconic art deco architecture and the best Cuban food you’ll find outside Cuba.

At this point on your trip, it’s time to sample the beaches of Miami | © Westend61 GmbH / Alamy

Key West

Luckily, this East Coast adventure keeps some of the best stuff until last and, before heading to the southernmost point of the USA, you have to visit the Everglades National Park. These iconic wetlands are a striking sight, and no trip to Florida would be complete without an airboat tour to go ‘gator spotting.

And now onto the final leg of our East Coast odyssey: the three-hour journey along Route 1, which island-hops across the Florida Keys archipelago – arguably the most beautiful stretch of road in the US. Savor the final moments of this extraordinary road trip as you cross turquoise water and pass countless Floridian towns, all the way to Key West. At this point, you’re closer to Cuba than Miami, so breathe in the Caribbean-style breeze as you make the most of the beaches, watersports and lively nightlife for the final few nights of your epic adventure.

Breathe in the Caribbean-style breeze in Key West for the final few nights of your epic adventure | © Cavan Images / Alamy

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